Conventional Wisdom

Another day in the Palouse, another evening at Steptoe Butte. I can’t help myself. I love that place. It is a little like the Foothills Parkway in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I can go there again and again and again, and I never tire of it. There is always something different with the light and something different to explore with my camera.

As I mentioned in my last post, Steptoe Butte offers a way to get above the undulating hills of the Palouse and to see the magic carpet at your feet when the sun rises and sets. More specifically, the top of Steptoe Butte is about 3600 feet above sea level. The base of the butte and the surrounding hills are about 2500 feet above sea level. Do the math and you see that Steptoe Butte provides the enterprising photographer with a tall step ladder—1100 feet tall to be exact. A narrow asphalt road spirals the butte from the bottom to the top. The road encircles the butte two or three times during the gradual ascent up 1100 feet. There are numerous pullouts along the way to provide a glorious 360-degree view of the Palouse. It is really cool when you think about it: you can get a spectacular view in any direction. Where else can you find that? It is a photographer’s dream.

Conventional wisdom for photographers holds that, as tempting as it might be, you don’t go all the way to the top of Steptoe Butte for the best photographs. Perhaps surprisingly, the best photographs are found in the lower reaches of Steptoe. The contention is that the higher you go, the more it reduces the angle of side lighting, which in turn leads to a flattened landscape. Follow the logic? It actually makes a lot of sense. I don’t remember where I first heard this, probably somewhere on the internet. Consequently, it must be true. And judging from all photographers I see on the lower reaches of Steptoe, I’m not the only one who read about it on the internet.

Tonight, I waited for the sun to set, then, for the first time in a long time, I decided to drive farther up to the higher elevations of Steptoe. Just for kicks. I had already put away my gear as I figured there was nothing to shoot near the top. You know, conventional wisdom and all. I’m glad I decided to play. Even in the fading light, new compositions started to appear to me. I quickly got out my gear and snapped a view more frames before the light completely faded. The result is included here. I quite like it. It isn’t a stunner, but I like the direction it is going. Perhaps it was the fading light that made it happen. Perhaps it is the work I’ve been doing lately looking for images on garage floors. Perhaps conventional wisdom isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many things I like about conventional wisdom. It has a lot going for it. But, the problem with conventional wisdom is – you guessed it – it leads to conventional results. To be clear, conventional Steptoe images are extraordinary. I hope there are many more in my future from the lower reaches of Steptoe. But, the next time you’re on Steptoe, there is a good chance that you will find me playing in the higher elevations looking for something different. Wish me luck! We’ll see where it goes. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

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